In this post, I’d like to explain how to get a ham license. This info applies to getting licensed in the USA; other countries have their own (usually similar) requirements.
have a license to talk on ham radio. Anyone can listen, but it is a felony to transmit without a license. They actively patrol and prosecute, which is why ham radio is far more organized and orderly than CB radio.
In the USA, there are three different classes of ham radio license. All of them require that you pass tests. Now before you click on the “back” button, let me tell you something. The tests are published. You can study for the test using the actual questions, word for word, that will appear on the test.
There are five year-old ham radio operators. One little girl got her first license when she was four. There are 12 year-olds who have the highest class amateur radio license. It simply is not that hard; all it takes is a little preparation.
The first license is the Technician class. That requires passing a 35 question test with a 70% or better. There is a “pool” of 350 possible questions, divided into 35 sections of ten questions each. On the test, one question is taken from each section. The questions are on the rules and regulations governing ham radio, operating procedures, safety, and very basic electronics. Many of the questions are very common sense (Q: When is it legal to use obscenities on the air? A: never), and the rest are pretty easy to learn. With the Technician license, you can use VHF (very high frequency) radios. These radios, often small handheld units, are good for talking locally or using packet (computer) radio. But usually they do not allow for long distance communications unless multiple stations are linked together (using “digipeaters”). To get HF (high frequency) privileges that allow you to easily communicate worldwide, you have to get the next license, the General class.
The General class license requires another written test. There is more about the rules, operating procedures, and electronics. While it does require a little more preparation, even non-technical people can get a General class license with a little work. General class licensees can use all the worldwide HF bands (though certain portions of those bands are reserved for the highest-class licensees).
The highest class license is the Amateur Extra class. That requires one more written test. These hams can operate on all ham frequencies and have all ham privileges. It even gives them the legal authority to put their own satellites into orbit (though getting them there is difficult). (I have an Advanced class license, a type of license no longer offered, in between the General and Amateur Extra).
To prepare, you need a copy of the questions. You can download them from the American Radio Relay League, the biggest ham radio organization in the USA, at http://www.arrl.org
. Or you can buy one of the study manuals from the ARRL: The Technician’s Q&A Book
(the questions with short explanations of the answers), or Now You’re Talking
(same, but with all kinds of extra info on ham radio, setting up a station, etc.).
The ARRL also sells manuals for the higher licenses, and other educational materials. You can even buy DVDs or VHS tapes that will prep you for the test. There are also web sites where you can take practice tests using the actual questions, such as http://www.w8mhb.com
When you’re ready to take the test, you have to find a local radio club. The tests are given by volunteer ham radio operators. They will administer and grade the test, and, if you pass, send your info to the FCC, who will issue your license. If you fail, you can always try again (on another day). You can keep trying until you pass. The test costs about $15 to cover the volunteer’s expenses, like gas. You can get a list of clubs and test dates from the ARRL web site.
Once you pass your test, you have a license for life (it must be renewed (free) once every 10 years). You will get your own set of call letters that uniquely identifies your station. And you join a group of millions of people worldwide who love to communicate. Hams are the friendliest people around; their whole purpose is to communicate.
In the next post, some information on setting up a radio station; it won’t cost you an arm and a leg!Part 1 - IntroPart 2 - LicensingPart 3 - EquipmentPart 4 - Networking